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  • Questioning Platonism: Continental Interpretations of Plato
  • Mitch Miller
Drew A. Hyland . Questioning Platonism: Continental Interpretations of Plato. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. Pp. ix + 202. Cloth, $45.00.

In this provocative study Drew Hyland articulates a profound disagreement with some very good friends. Or, more fully stated, he challenges some deeply kindred thinkers to see that they have mistaken for an opponent one who is their ally and, in the process, have fallen prey to a shallow understanding of the significance of their own critical thinking. Hyland's 'good friends' are four major Continental thinkers—Heidegger, Derrida, Irigaray, and Cavarero. (A fifth, Gadamer, stands mostly outside the reach of his challenge.) The ally they mistake is Plato—the Plato, that is, who anticipates the Continentals' philosophical appreciation of narrative, poetry and drama by choosing to write not treatises but dialogues, who anticipates the 'death of the author' by never speaking in his own name, who recognizes the thrownness of all existential possibility by situating his dramatis personae in existentially and social-historically determinate contexts and by displaying how genuine questioning and the basic aporia it expresses always outstrip assertion and certainty, and who, instead of laying out his own comprehensive system, "gives us to think" the inseparability of unhiddenness from hiddenness and, accordingly, the finitude of all transcendence. Each of the four Continental philosophers, Hyland argues, misses this Plato; by neglecting dialogue form, each confuses Plato with Platonism. The irony of this confusion, his argument suggests, is rich and manifold. Once we recognize that the dialogues themselves, by the ways they situate the claims made within them, are "[self]-deconstructive happenings" (101), we see both that the first thinker to "question Platonism" was Plato himself and that their various ways of challenging and subverting Platonist doctrines are modes of resistance he would welcome.

Limits of space forbid a chapter-by-chapter exegesis. To indicate the subtle interplay of critique and affirmation in Hyland's argument, let me note four exemplary turns of thought. (1) Reflecting on the implications of Socrates' characterization of the Good as "beyond being," Hyland both undermines and redeems Heidegger's famous claim that in the cave analogy Plato shifts from the notion of truth as unhiddenness to that of truth as correctness of vision; the Good, Hyland shows, remains prior to and not an object for the correct vision that, by self-concealingly 'illuminating' the forms, it first enables. The apparent displacement of unhiddenness by correctness is, more deeply attended, a mark of the very work, itself self-concealing, of unhiddenness. (2) By bringing to focus the pointedly partial allusions to the Republic implicit in Socrates' opening recollections, the mimetic irony in the construction of the Pythagorean persona "Timaeus," and the sequence of recommencements that give it its narrative structure, Hyland motivates a kind of figure/background shift on the familiar, doctrinally-centered reading of the Timaeus; within the newly emergent Gestalt of the dialogue as a whole, Timaeus' teachings come to light as the objects of a Platonic critique of the possibilities and limitations of Pythagorean mathematicization. (This hermeneutic stance is particularly well-suited to recognize and entertain the supplemental status of the receptacle.) (3) By following up his lucid and [End Page 482] helpful distillation of Irigaray's difficult reading of the cave as womb with a largely shared reflection on Diotima as woman, priestess, and stranger, Hyland opens up "Plato" as a space hospitable to the most critical feminism—and in the process makes credible the claim that such hospitality is the core character of the dialogues themselves. (He sustains this same spirit of discriminating welcome throughout his following chapter on Cavarero's imaginative reappropriation of marginal women in In Spite of Plato.) (4) Hyland closes his study with a chapter on the one Continental, Gadamer, who also discovers the anti-Platonist Plato that dialogue form implies. Hyland works through a remarkable web of dialectical relations. To note the crux: the young Gadamer is attuned—surely by Being and Time—to the "irreducibly existential dimension" (169) of the dialogues, and this moves him to resist what the early Heidegger insists upon, the approach to Plato by way of...


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pp. 482-483
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